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Sons of anarchy’

Matthew DeFranks | Friday, October 12, 2012

Just call them the “Sons of Anarchy.”

When the offensive line enters its meeting room, they know exactly where to go. There is a seat for the president, the vice president, the secretary and the sergeant at arms – and each lineman has a spot at the table, which is modeled after the television show “Sons of Anarchy.”

“When they all come together, they all meet at a big table and you’re assigned to a seat by who you are in the group,” graduate student center Braxston Cave said. “We kind of have it set up in the same manner.”

Senior left tackle Zack Martin is the president, Cave is the vice president, senior left guard Chris Watt is the secretary and graduate student right guard Mike Golic Jr. is the sergeant at arms. Junior right tackle Christian Lombard is the final starter on the offensive line.

The setup has facilitated Notre Dame’s nearly five-yards-per-carry average and allowed No. 7 Irish jump out to their best start in a decade. While offensive line play has keyed Notre Dame’s hot start, the big guys up front have not been given much of the credit.

Martin said the line has become accustomed to not receiving their fair due.

“If we hear our name, it’s probably not a good thing,” he said. “The more we can stay out of the press, the better.”

The unit – which weighs a combined 1,527 pounds – entered the season a strength of an Irish squad and brought 127 total games of experience with them. The youngest member on the offensive line is Lombard, a junior.

“It’s one of those things where usually every year there is a new group and we were fortunate to bring all five guys back,” Golic said. “You can really learn where your help is coming from different guys on the field and where you can afford to help another guy out. That chemistry is huge for offensive line play.”

The chemistry of an offensive line is key to any team’s success but especially for the Irish – who have a first-time starter at quarterback in sophomore Everett Golson.

“Everyone knows offense starts up front,” Martin said. “If we can’t block and run the football, if we can’t protect the quarterback, it doesn’t matter who we have on the outside. We could have an entire team of [senior tight end] Tyler Eifert’s, it doesn’t matter. We have to do our job.”

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said the Irish could potentially ride their strong offensive line to the BCS National Championship Game in January.

“The development of that offensive line, with the skill that they have on the offensive side of the ball, how far they come up front will dictate whether or not they can truly become a threat to try to push to get into the top two at the end of the year,” Herbstreit said.

Sticking together
Martin, one of four Irish captains, has taken on more of a leadership role this year, Irish coach Brian Kelly said.

“He’s a leader,” Kelly said. “He was a good player for us last year, too, and he’s a good player for us this year. He’s taken his leadership to a new level. He’s communicating, taking responsibility for all the players on the offensive line. I think he’s evolved more as a leader for us more than anything else.”

Watt echoed Kelly’s sentiment.

“Zack is the leader, being a captain and all he’s definitely our vocal leader,” Watt said. “He also does a great job of getting us riled up before practice, and communicating with the whole group. We all try to pick it up, but he’s there to get us going if we’re having a bad day.”

Off the field, Martin and Watt are housemates and were roommates each summer.

“They’re inseparable off the field,” Kelly said. “They hang out together. If you go up to team meal they will be eating together, so they’re close and what that brings is a lot of collateral communication about their position and how they can help each other.”

While the grind of a long season may wear on some teammates, Martin said he does not get tired of seeing Watt.

“He’s one of my best buddies and I don’t know what I’d do without him,” Martin said. “We get along, we’re pretty compatible I would say. We like to do the same things so we get along pretty well.”

The rest of the offensive line, however, is not left out.

“For the most part we get along really well and it’s a fun group of guys,” Golic said. “It’s a group of guys I am fortunate enough to spend my last year here with. We have a mix of young guys, old guys and it’s really exciting to be around.”

Cave – who described Watt as the best dancer of the bunch and Golic as the best singer of the group – said while it’s mostly fun and games, he said the line does not always get along.

“We’re always together,” Cave said. “They’d probably say I’m the more serious guy out of the group probably because I get mad the easiest when someone messes with me. Everyone’s a bunch of jokesters.

“This is definitely the closest line that I’ve been associated with since I’ve been here. This group just seemed to gel very well.”

Growing into their role
The teamwork on the field got off to a slow start this season after the Irish gave up five sacks, eight tackles for loss and rushed for just 52 yards in a 20-17 win over Purdue.

“We needed to step up our game and take it to the next level and we’ve done a good job of that,” Cave said.

The next week, however, against then-No. 10 Michigan State, Notre Dame rebounded to run for 122 yards while Golson was sacked just once. The Irish have not allowed a sack since the 20-3 win over the Spartans, a span of 85 pass attempts.

“If we make a mistake, we see it and we learn from it and that’s what we’ve been doing the past few weeks, learning from our mistakes,” Martin said.

In a 41-3 win over Miami, the offensive line consistently opened up holes as the Irish rushed for 376 yards, the program’s most since 2000.

“That game was so much fun knowing that every snap we’re just going to run the ball and gash their defensive linemen and as an offensive line, that’s what you want to do,” Martin said.

In the second half, the Irish engineered two touchdown drives that consisted of just running plays. Lombard said the repeated runs were great for the offensive line.

“It’s what you look forward to as an offensive lineman,” Lombard said. “Moving a guy against his will is what football is all about. That was a signature win for us right there.”

Kelly awarded the game ball to the offensive line.

After this season, Cave and Golic will have exhausted their collegiate eligibility, but Martin and Watt are both eligible for fifth years. Lombard, meanwhile, is the only lineman assured of a roster spot next year.

The “Sons of Anarchy” ride motorcycles on television but, for Notre Dame, they may just determine its fate.

 

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu